Why am I losing my temper all the time at the moment? Why do I sometimes feel out of control? Why am I so down; why does everything feel hopeless? What’s making me tense or anxious? Or why do I feel completely numb….what’s that about? Most of us have never learnt to talk about how we are feeling; if anybody asks us, we just say ‘fine thanks’ even if we feel awful, and asking how our partner is feeling, or letting them know how we feel, is something we mostly never think of doing. We expect them to know as if by magic – they don’t, they can’t, especially as we frequently don’t know ourselves why we feel the way we do.
We don’t stop to think what’s going on for us when we feel angry…..we just act, and then wonder why we have shouted at our partner or screamed at the kids, banged that pan down in the kitchen, run upstairs in tears, or slammed out of the house. Some of us do the opposite – freeze, clam up, fail to respond to our partner, appear not to react at all, but feel just as bad inside.
Clients often come for help because their anger, or that of their partner, is getting out of control. Every row is worse than the last and the feelings are escalating quicker each time they fall out. One of the first things that I talk about, is how the anger and frustration we ‘act out’ is covering up or suppressing a deeper emotion underneath. The stereotype is that women talk endlessly or cry when they are unhappy, whereas men are more likely to clam up and refuse to talk, or get angry and then walk away from the row. Women get angry too, however, and if both are ‘losing it’ the relationship starts to break down pretty quickly….and frequently there are children stuck in the middle of it all.
So what’s the anger about? I have come to believe that underneath the anger there is usually hurt, or rejection, or sadness and sometimes a deep sense of failure….and there is confusion too, because all those feelings are mixed up together, and you have no idea how things got so bad.
But while the row is going on, we just feel angry…we’re not aware of what lies underneath, and then the guilt sets in that we have lost our temper and said unfair and personal things which will have hurt and done damage.
What can we do about it? Once there are regular angry exchanges in a relationship I seriously do suggest that you look for a trained couple counsellor. The anger and the hurt doesn’t go away without a lot of listening to each other and learning about the feelings that are going on underneath, and that’s hard to do without a professional ‘referee’; someone who can be there for you both, help you to recognise what’s happening beneath the surface, and to find other ways to talk about your own needs and those of your partner.
As I said at the beginning of this post, we don’t all express our hurt and frustration through anger. Some of us just freeze, disengage, and can’t find the words to argue back, others become ‘down’ or unable to feel a thing. Those of us who can’t find the words are struggling just as much as the angry partner. I’ll talk about how it feels for the ‘quiet ones’ next time.